Alexandra Louise Champion Hackett designs clothes that feel both familiar and fresh. That may be because she's been known to repurpose found objects such as construction tape and IKEA bags. But more recently she's been using high-performance materials like the washable paper you'll find on your wrist at a festival, or the NASA space foil that's used by emergency services.
In her graduate menswear collection at Melbourne's RMIT – called Shoplifters – the designer showed a jacket embellished with security tags, and another punctured with 20,000 price tags, to give the illusion of faux fur. This kind of unorthodox fabrication has garnered Hackett and her brand A.L.C.H. a fervent following online.
I sat down with the designer at a cafe in Melbourne to discuss how she plays with notions of functionality in fashion, her love of sportswear mega brands and her plans for going global. Wearing a Nike T-shirt emblazoned with the word "SAME" and a necklace made entirely of silver snap-hook clips, the dry Brisbanite may be only 22, but her bold designs are winning over the world.
So you've just got back from America?
Yeah, I was sussing the scene, meeting a few people IRL. I'm tossing up between moving to the US and the UK, but I'm leaning more towards the UK. I'm doing a collab with a British designer at the moment, so it'll be a smooth transition into the British market, I feel. I'm hopefully moving there around July.
Have you thought about how your brand will be perceived in the British market as opposed to the American market?
Yeah, I was thinking the American market probably suits it more. But I feel like it's an easier step to go from the UK to America. So it's kind of like a stepping stone.
So America's the final frontier?
Yeah, probably. [Grins] I'm just seeing where it goes. Winging it.
I was thinking you'd probably be inspired by America, going by your aesthetic.
I love America! There's so much branding and advertising, and they leave their trash on the street. I love it! I've moved to a city by myself before, and it's really hard. So I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for myself when I move overseas.
You've been Instagramming your collection of plastic bags with smiley faces on them. What draws you to that kind of branding?
I think it's this idea of branding every element of something. You go to a shop and get this whole branded experience, and the more branded the experience the more wealth the company has. Big brands brand everything. Cars, mugs. It's this weird branded identity.
You've done that well yourself, right down to your business/packaging cards!
Yeah, I package everything. I feel like it's a really undervalued element, especially in the fashion industry. I'm really interested in the idea of the body as a product, and clothing as packaging.
How did you arrive at the 'Shoplifters' theme for your graduate collection?
Well, I work at Nike, and I used to work in retail, and we just saw quite a lot of shoplifters. I was really fascinated by the means that people go to to get away with stealing. I don't endorse it, but I kind of like the anti-consumerism. The fashion industry can be so mundane, so talking about shoplifting is very controversial.
But you need to do something different to get noticed nowadays.
There are so many designers out there! People are doing the same things and it's exhausting. Especially in Australia, it's very commercial. I think it's interesting to do something that people don't normally think about.
How do you decide to use objects like price tags? Is there a moment when you're looking at something and you're like, 'I could make that into a jacket!'
Yeah, basically. I just kind of fell into it with class work. I made some bras out of weird things, and I just continued it. I used to do quite mainstream things, like astroturf. Then I got into sourcing fabrics – going to construction sites after hours and going through bins.
Did you ever get caught?
No, but I realised I could say I was just looking for my cat. But they wouldn't even care, it wasn't like I was taking stuff that was being used. It was always trash that was buried under dirt. I'd spend hours in the shower washing it so I could use it.
You're a massive fan of sportswear. What draws you to it?
I think practicality. It's designed for a purpose, it's highly technical and practical. I also enjoy how it has really interesting features. That was why I liked looking at fabrics and using them for a different function. For example timber packaging is a polyethylene, which is like a plastic, which can be used for outerwear like waterproof jackets. It can be used to offer the same function as waterproof fabrics, so it's reapplying functionality.
But there's a duality – you're inspired by this highly functional, practical gear, but some of the things you make are so impractical – like the security tag jacket.
There are different scales of it. That is the highlight piece, 'cause it's kind of ridiculous. But beneath it all is the fact that if you wore that into a store and shoplifted whilst wearing it, they wouldn't stop you because you're wearing so many tags. So there's a questionable functionality it offers, if you shoplift in it, but it's impractical to wear.
Is there an environmental element to your repurposed fabrications?
It's not my main goal. I think the sustainability thing has become exhausting. It's become this very niche area filled with hessian and hemp. It has a stigma associated with it now, which is probably why I don't like to associate myself with it.
Also when you think of Nike, it's not the first thing that comes to mind.
No. I just want to avoid that whole stereotype, which is why I don't really address it. It's also why I don't do womenswear. I feel like it's a natural progression to be like, 'I found this piece of rubbish. I'm going to make a skirt.' That's how I've always worked when making stuff for myself. Whereas designing menswear is way more challenging. I don't want to be making womenswear any time soon. My style is technically unisex, I just don't do skirts or dresses.
Have you found any of the materials you've gathered to be surprisingly wearable?
Most of it is quite wearable! Often people don't think that it is.
We have a closed-off view of fabrics.
Yeah. I used to make stuff that was just not wearable, it was more like art at that point. Now wearability is such an important thing for me. Like polyethylene makes you sweat, so I'll always line it with something that will counteract that. [Gestures towards her silver bubble-wrap packaging jacket] I wear this all the time, and it's so wearable. It's lined with water-resistant fabric, and it's super-warm. It's a viable fabrication.
So right now you're working on a collaboration and your own collection?
Yeah. I also do products and packaging for a music label called Grey Marle Music… I've just kind of fallen into everything. A lot of people say that, but I've worked really, really hard and then fallen into things! I was probably going to have a cardiac arrest before I went to America. I was sleeping four hours a night and working every day. But I feel like if you work hard, things work out for you.
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